Life, Connection and Going the Distance
Have you come across titles such as ‘The Big 100: The New World of Super-Aging,’ ‘Outlive,’ or ‘Live to be 100: Secrets of the Blue Zone’ on Netflix? All of these documentaries delve into the secrets of longevity, how to start embracing a longer life, and most importantly, how to redefine your approach to life, starting now. The prospect of living longer and having more time to pursue your desires does sound incredible, doesn’t it? But, of course, you might be thinking, “There must be a catch.”
It does indeed sound amazing, yet simultaneously quite daunting. When your current quality of life falls short of your aspirations, it’s challenging to envision what life in your 90s or beyond might be like.
What strikes me the most is how this concept aligns with a quote by Mary Oliver that I hold dear. She asks in her poem, “Summer Day,” “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Ms. Oliver implores us to reach for our dreams. If we’re to live to 100, what kind of life do we want to create, and how can we achieve that?
Let’s be clear; no one is advocating for living to 100 in a state of immobility, surviving on pureed foods. The conversation has shifted towards living a vibrant life, where vitality persists until the very end.
I’ll let you explore the books and documentaries, but I’ll distill one piece of advice that I’m confident discussing: the significance of strong social connections. Beyond work and immediate family, it’s becoming common for people to have fewer ties to their community. Volunteer participation is declining, as is engagement in formal spiritual practices like attending church or temple.
Interestingly, our connections to work colleagues often remain confined to office hours. Phrases like “work spouse” are familiar, but many people lack the same level of social interaction with colleagues outside the workplace.
Scientifically speaking, here’s what we know: the more connections we have, the more we feel like part of something greater, enhancing our overall quality of life. These connections imbue our actions with purpose and meaning, giving us a reason to greet each day with enthusiasm. Furthermore, such connections keep us mentally sharp, physically agile, and socially engaged.
For those who may be more comfortable in solitude or limit their external interactions, this might seem like a daunting proposition. However, the alternative, leading a more isolated life, can have even more adverse consequences. It essentially boils down to this choice: have limited connections and live a shorter, more physically and emotionally painful life, or foster more connections and embrace a longer, happier life.
If you’ve read this far and are contemplating making changes, here are some reasonably simple steps to get started:
- Start small. Step out into the world. Take a leisurely walk in the park and share a smile with the people you encounter. Visit your favorite cafe for tea and engage in a bit of small talk with the staff. A simple smile can go a long way.
- Explore your local community for interesting groups or activities, such as book discussion clubs, hiking clubs, tai chi classes, or local food pantries. These groups provide a shared purpose and meaning.
- Once you feel more comfortable and connected, consider making a commitment to these groups or activities.
- If your schedule is tight or you have young children demanding your attention, think about teaming up with other parents for outdoor activities. Form a hiking group involving both kids and adults, or participate in meal trains to support a family in need. A side benefit is that you’re setting an example for your children about the value of connections.
- If small talk is not your forte, here’s a helpful 45-second video on how to manage it without feeling miserable: https://www.tiktok.com/@justaskjefferson/video/7229834812738047274
If you still feel stuck or uncertain about whether this path is right for you, consider this alternative question: What do you envision for yourself as you grow older? How would you like to spend your time as your professional priorities shift? This might be an excellent time to get creative, create a vision board, or start outlining your goals for the future.
If you’re concerned that no one would want to spend time with you or that certain habits are keeping you isolated, it might be time to seek support from a therapist. The power of support can be truly transformative. Best part? Therapy comes in all kinds of variations these days. Want weekly sessions? Not a problem. Want to sit down for longer, more extended periods of work because that suits your style better? Also not a problem. Want to really dig in? We call those Intensives and they are mighty helpful in getting direction, strategy and clarity.
While living to 100 may not be your primary goal, I am confident that aiming for a meaningful life with as few physical and emotional challenges as possible is a worthy aspiration for most of us. I hope you embark on this journey for yourself.
Looking for extra help? I’m here for it! https://lisacurtislcsw.com/lets-connect/